I’m Helen McGinn, author of The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club, an award winning wine blog and best-selling wine book. I’m an ex-supermarket wine buyer and spent almost a decade sourcing wines around the world.
A reader emailed recently asking for some low sulphur wines to try after being told by her GP that wine intolerance was common in middle-aged pre-menopausal women and a low/no added sulphur approach might help. I mean, a hot flush is one thing. But wine intolerance? Talk about adding insult to injury. Anyway, if you want to go low the trick is to go for organic, biodynamic or so-called natural wines as these will have lower levels of sulphur than most (although all wines will have at least some sulphur in them: it’s a natural by-product of fermentation). So a couple of this week’s wines are both low sulphur and fabulous. The other is Fairtrade, given that it’s Fairtrade Fortnight (as requested by another reader this week). Hope this helps. Now, excuse me whilst I go and open a window.
‘Just checking you’re ok…not seen you on social media for a bit?’ went the first message from a friend. ‘Are you away on hols?’ went another. Sadly I wasn’t sitting on my own private island with a cocktail in one hand, book in the other (would have posted that, obviously). But I did go dark for a bit because for the first time for a long time I was, quite literally, out of words. Almost two years after I started writing it, I’ve finally finished my first fiction book. As ever, you’ll be the first to know what happens next. In the meantime, back to booze and this week’s recommendations include the descriptions ‘delicious’ and ‘great value’. Quite my favourite words when it comes to wine.
‘Just checking you’re ok as not seen you on social media for a bit?’ went the first message from a friend. ‘Are you away on hols?’ went another. Sadly I wasn’t sitting on my own private island with a cocktail in one hand, book in the other (would have posted that, obviously). But I did go dark for a bit because, for the first time for a long time, I was out of words. Almost two years after I started, I finished writing my first fiction book. As ever, you’ll be the first to know what happens next. In the meantime, back to wine words. Happily, I don’t seem to have run out of those.
A few years ago I bought a jumpsuit. We were off to New York for a long weekend and clearly thought a jumpsuit would elevate me from knackered mother to potential extra in Gossip Girl in one outfit. Instead, I remember feeling like a giant toddler. Except with wine. And going to the loo was a (cold) logistical nightmare. Anyway, I found it tucked away at the back of the cupboard the other day and felt bad that I hadn’t worn it since not getting that part in Gossip Girl. But I knew I had to face the fact: jumpsuits might look amazing on other people, just not on me. And I’m old enough to realise that clothes definitely shouldn’t make you feel self conscious or make it difficult to have a wee. If only I’d known that back in my puffball skirt-wearing days.
I had lunch with Rob Lowe last week. OK, ‘had lunch with’ might be pushing it. I was in a restaurant and he was on the next door table. Still, close enough to see that he looked pretty much as he did in St Elmo’s Fire but with slightly better hair. And to think I nearly married him!* (It was between him and John Taylor from Duran Duran). Anyway I was in one of my favourite restaurants, The River Cafe, as part of my get-through-January plan. The food was uh-mazing as was the bottle of Chianti shared with friends. I think I need a plan for February. I’ll see if John Taylor’s free.
OK, January. You’ve had your ‘fun’. Case in point: I went to a HIIT class at the gym today. Or SHIIT as I like to call it. Now I can hardly walk. And even though I haven’t managed a dry January (once was enough; this one’s had a few damp patches) it’s still been relatively abstemious. Thank goodness then for Burns Night – I’ve got whisky recommendations for you this week, as promised – because that means a) it’s nearly February and b) I can give up HIIT. Until next year, of course.
Apparently, there’s a new series on Netflix about tidying up with expert de-clutterer Marie Kondo. Now, I haven’t seen it (too busy watching the entire series of Fleabag back to back, way more fun than folding clothes). But I do know Marie’s mantra is ‘does this spark joy?’ In other words if you own something and it doesn’t make you happy, you don’t need it. Happily, there are plenty of wines that spark joy so instead of decluttering, I suggest putting your feet up on the sofa with a glass of one of this week’s wines in hand, book/remote in the other. Job done. Joyous.
So, how was it for you? Aside from doing my knee in (again) whilst trying to act out The Nutcracker in a family game of charades on Christmas Eve, mine was great. But the kids went back to school yesterday (fist bump) and much as I’ve loved lying on the sofa sipping Brandy Alexanders whilst watching old films, apparently it’s time to get on with the new year. So, question: I’ll do the usual regular wine recommendations but is there anything else you’d like to see on the blog this year? I mean, I’m not talking parenting or style tips (I’m writing this whilst wearing a cardigan I’ve had for at least 15 years) but if you want more gin (silly question), more booze-free options or more homemade cocktails, just let me know. But for now, wines. This week’s recommendations include an organic/vegan red and a booze-free hack that’s just the tonic.
Right, cocktails. Below are a few suitably festive favourites from Homemade Cocktails (my new book, just in case you’re here by accident/for the first time). But first, an idea for a last minute present.
Homemade Cranberry & Orange Gin
Get an empty 500ml bottle, fill it with 100g of fresh cranberries (prick them with a pin as you pop them in, strangely therapeutic I swear), 50g of caster sugar, thinly sliced orange peel and about 400ml of (cheap) gin. Shake daily until you wrap it. Within a few days the gin will take on a heavenly pink hue and start smelling of oranges. And it’ll keep for months. Drink it as you would in a G&T or use in place of gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup in a French 75 (see below).
On Christmas Day, just when you think you can’t move from the sofa, make a round of these. As pick-me-ups go, they’re pretty impressive. Not to mention totally luxurious.
50ml crème de cacao
50ml single cream
Grated nutmeg to garnish
Put a handful of ice into a cocktail shaker and add the brandy, crème de cacao and cream. Shake well and strain into chilled Martini glasses. Grate a bit of nutmeg or sprinkle a pinch of ground nutmeg over the top and serve.
My all-time favourite champagne cocktail. If you decide to keep your homemade cranberry & orange gin, use it here and leave out the sugar syrup and lemon juice, adding a bit more gin instead.
15ml fresh lemon juice
15ml sugar syrup (less if using prosecco)
Champagne (or another sparkling wine)
Twist of lemon peel
Put a couple of ice cubes in a cocktail shaker and add the gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup. Shake and strain into a chilled flute or coupe and top up with chilled champagne. Add a twist of citrus peel.
I’m signing off until next year so just wanted to say a really big thank you for joining the party this year. Without you it would be a very dry do indeed.
Ah, Christmas. So much stuff to organise – food, presents, plans – and so little time to do it. Now, I can’t help you with the last minute mince pie requests or the sudden call for a star costume (for real, made one out of a wine box earlier this week in ten minutes flat) but I can help you with wine. If you haven’t sorted your wines out yet, there’s still time to order a case of this year’s KMWC Christmas Selection (click here for details). Or go to this week’s festive-food friendly wine reviews for a red, white and pudding wine under a tenner. Next week, cocktails.